The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. **Mark Twain

Monday, January 21, 2008

Holly Miller, author and editor

I was not sincere about a writing career until I met Holly Miller. She is genuine in her love for writing and authentic in her encouragement for other writers. She has given me the best gift of all..."the desire to be my best as a writer and the call to get busy, now!"

It is my great pleasure to have Holly Miller as our first interview. I know you will appreciate her thoughts as much as I do.

Holly G. Miller is senior editor of The Saturday Evening Post, author of 14 books and professional in residence at Anderson University. She has won writing awards from the Associated Press, Evangelical Press Association, Society of American Travel Writers, Midwest Travel Writers Association, Women in Communication and Society of Professional Journalists.

As a freelancer magazine writer she has had more than 3,000 articles published. Last year her published interviews included conversations with Sally Field, Suzanne Somers, Judge Judy, Tony Bennett, Dr. Oz and Bob Newhart.

Holly is currently under contract to write a second edition of her magazine-writing book “Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdote” with co-author David Sumner.

I've read her book and it's a must if you want to write for magazines.

Just Write: How did you get started in your career?

Holly: I was a journalism major in college, and after graduation I took a job as a police/political reporter for my hometown daily newspaper. Whenever I got an assignment that I thought might be of interest to a larger audience I rewrote it and tried to market it. My first major break came when I interviewed humorist Erma Bombeck. We ran it in our newspaper, the Associated Press picked it up (it later won an AP writing award) and then I rewrote the interview for Writer’s Digest magazine.

Just Write: Were you published immediately?

Holly: The first thing I wrote was a silly first-person experience piece. Amazingly, it sold (I’ll never forget receiving the check for $100!). I decided that freelancing was a piece of cake.

Just Write: Do you have any rejection letters?

Holly: Yes! After I sold my first piece, I changed my mind about freelancing being a piece of cake. It was TWO YEARS before my next sale!

Just Write: What went through your mind the moment you received the good news that you had sold your first piece of writing?

Holly: I must have spent that $100 check a million times in my head. Should I invest it? Buy something sensible? Frame it? Splurge on something to wear that would be so wild that everyone would remark about it?( That would give me an opening to say, “Oh, I bought this with my latest freelance check.”) In the end the $100 went toward a new set of tires. So much for daydreaming!

Just Write: In the beginning of your career did you ever think the publishing industry was bigger than your talents or abilities?

Holly: Sure, every writer is plagued with feelings of inadequacy. Every rejection letter brings a new wave of insecurity.

Just Write: How do you deal with those feelings?

Holly: I go through a series of emotions when my work is turned down: First, I want to quit writing, toss my computer in the trash, and take up ceramics. Second, I get angry—how could an editor reject something that I worked soooooo hard to produce? Finally, I move into my “I’ll show ‘em” phase. That’s when I get fired up and go back to work.

Just Write: Most conferences stress that we all have a voice. What do you believe are the characteristics of the influential voice destined to produce change?

Holly: Each year I judge a national writing contest sponsored by the Evangelical Press Association. All entries have been published, so the writers aren’t newcomers. What sets a winner apart from the rest of the field is often the voice. Some writers have the confidence to tackle provocative topics head-on; they develop a style that isn’t like everyone else’s; they go beyond just clear writing and move all the way to inspired writing. They are willing to take risks.

Just Write: Juggling personal priorities and writing goals can be difficult for most new writers. It’s even worse when day jobs and small children are involved. How do you set your priorities?

Holly: When I was starting out I didn’t get a lot of sleep! I would work very late at night when the house was finally quiet. Then I would be up early to get everyone off to work/school. Sometimes I worked in snatches—20 minutes here or there. A writer doesn’t FIND time to write, she MAKES time to write.

Just Write: Denny Boltinghouse of Simon & Schuster-Howard Books told a class at a conference that he was not there to sign contracts; he was there to make friends. New writers have a hard time seeing editors as neighbors and friends. Do you like to hear from people you meet?

Holly: I like a writer who hands me her/his card, tells me his areas of specialization and says, “If you ever have an assignment in my neck of the woods, please call.”

Just Write: What is the #1 personal mental trait you would like to see all new writers develop?

Holly: Writers have to be inquisitive. They have to be interested in EVERYTHING and know how to ask good questions to learn more. The term “life-long learner” may be a cliché, but the concept is solid. I get very frustrated with Christian writers who say they don’t read newspapers, watch TV news, go to films or read current books. I believe you have to know the world you want to change.

Just Write: What is your favorite book and/or magazine?

Holly: I’m a news junkie, so I probably like Newsweek and The New Yorker best. As for books, I loved “Bel Canto” and “Mr. Timothy.” Currently I’m reading “No Ordinary Time,” a biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the war years.

Just Write: What is your favorite Bible verse?

Holly: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1)

Just Write: Have you ever been discouraged with your career?

Holly: Rarely have I felt discouraged. Like all writers, I have good days and not-so-good ones. But I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I feel sorry for people who say, “If I had it to do over, I would….” I’d be a writer.

Just Write: New writers may look confident on the outside but inside they wonder if they have what it takes. Our inner turmoil is the most discouraging thing we face. What overall piece of advice would you like to share with them?

Holly: Writing is hard work. Writing is a business. If you truly want to write for a living, set aside your doubts and jump in. At the end of every day ask yourself, “What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?” Make sure you always have an answer to that question.

Thank you Holly. Thank you for your dedication to your own skill and for sharing your advice with us. May God bless you today.

It is always inspiring to hear that successful writers like Holly Miller walked the same sleepless road we are on now. I urge you to purchase her book and get excited about your career. After all...I'm just waiting for the day when I can interview you.

God loves you and has called you to write,


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